Fashion

'I've abused my body in so many ways': Charli Howard powerfully reveals how she went from buying diet pills on the internet to finally loving herself


I first met Charli Howardmodel-turned body activist turned author turned beauty mogul with her brand, Squish – a few years ago and instantly was inspired by her empowering spirit. This was a woman who, now 28 years old, has overcome crippling eating disorders, body confidence issues and after calling out a modelling agency for telling her to lose weight, has managed to finally become confident in her own skin.

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WATCH: Charli Howard powerfully opens up about over coming an eating disorder

Her story is an inspiring one of over-coming mental and physical hurdles to actually love yourself and here, in the latest episode of GLAMOUR UNFILTERED – our bi-weekly chat show, Charli reveals the pressures she placed on her body from extreme diets to dieting pills on the internet and how she can finally love her body…

Back in 2015 you posted a statement on Facebook calling out your modelling agency at the time for telling you to lose weight – what would you want to say to them now, four years on?

I feel like, at the time I was just so ready to quit modelling anyway, and I feel so lucky that I’ve been able just to do what I want to do at the size I’m at. And it really goes to show that speaking your mind and sticking up for yourself doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Do you ever get scared about standing up for yourself and speaking out, even now?

Occasionally. I think a lot of women do, but I think women are becoming increasingly vocal with the way that they feel. Women on the whole, we’ve been told that it’s a man’s world and you need to know your place. But now, with social media, it’s allowing women to come out and say, ‘Actually, I don’t agree with this! Actually, don’t grope me! Actually, pay me more!’ So, we live in a really exciting time, I think.

You are such a strong vocal voice for everyday girls who are out there struggling with thoughts like, ‘I need to lose weight, I need to tweak this part of my body,’ and saying, ‘no you don’t! have to be like that’…

You think it’s just a ‘modelling thing,’ and it really isn’t, it’s a global problem. Loads of girls feel insecure about their weight and loads of girls have felt the need to diet unnecessarily. I think that the fashion industry holds a lot of responsibility in terms of body image and the way that girls view their bodies. So, we do have to listen to women and the problems that they’re facing.

What kind of insane expectations have you placed on your own body image at certain times of your life to achieve a specific image?

I’ve tried everything because when you’re engrossed in an eating disorder – which I was for like for 10 years of my life – there’s this voice in your head that tells you that you can never be thin enough. I had this idea in my head that I had to be a UK size 6, which is like a US size 2. If I wasn’t a US size 2, size 6 UK, then I had failed, and I just put all this pressure on myself to be this body shape. This is what that voice in your head does, it places so much importance on the way that you look, which is just ridiculous. I bought diet pills off the internet back in the days when the internet wasn’t really regulated. I ordered these tablets that would swell up in your stomach to keep hunger at bay. I tried the 500-calorie diet, the thousand calorie diet, the apple a day diet. I tried every single diet underneath the sun in order to achieve this goal weight.

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I had a Parisian agency at the time and the agent said to me, ‘You’re almost perfect. Just get down to 34 inches.’ I got down to 34 and a half inches and I remember feeling like the biggest disappointment because I was like, ‘Why can’t I lose just this half an inch?’ But for a woman, you store fat on your body and at the time I was just eating like a square of dark chocolate a day, an apple and water. I was obsessed with tea because I thought that if it had two calories in it, if I have more than like two a day, that was it, I was going to be fat. I was going to wake up the next day and just be ginormously fat.

How did you overcome such an extreme time in your life?

A few different things. So, I wrote the Facebook letter and by that point I was kind of ready just to give modelling up and just go, ‘I just can’t do this anymore for the sake of my own sanity.’ I went to therapy, which I’m not ashamed about. I think in the UK we still have a bit of stigma around that, but I needed to go and that really helped break down the OCD because eating disorders are actually obsessive compulsive. So, I learned how to break out of that. I threw away scales, threw away measuring tapes because I used to carry a measuring tape around. I actually had two or three different measuring tapes because I had to make sure that it measured the same on each one because I was that obsessed.

With the scales I had two, to go upstairs and downstairs to make sure that both of them measured the same. It was just absolutely insane and honestly throwing away the scales is my number one thing because the minute you don’t have that to look at and those numbers to look at, you stop obsessing.

What is your relationship with your self-critic like now and how has that relationship with yourself changed?

Everyone’s got this nagging voice in their head that says, ‘Oh, maybe you’re not good enough.’ But it’s just about putting that to the back of your mind, it’s literally just a thought we have, and this is what therapy taught me. We have millions upon millions of thoughts rushing through our head. And it’s just a thought, it’s just a feeling, it will go away – so just remember that. It’s just for a period of time that you’re thinking this, just remember to keep going. Life is really difficult; it’s not meant to be super high all the time and I think I definitely had this expectation throughout my life that every single day should be happy. Unfortunately, every day isn’t going to be a bundle of laughs. You’re going to have highs and lows and it’s just about maintaining a regular feeling of contentment.

How have you changed the way you talk about yourself?

I know it sounds really cringe but look in the mirror every day and tell yourself something that you like about yourself and your body and I guarantee you, you’ll start believing it. If every morning you wake up and go, ‘Oh, I look cute. Oh, look at my little smile.’ You’ll believe it.

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Do you think you used to place too much validation on your body and now have you swapped that and found validation from other things?


Yeah! You read these stories of women in their 50s who are like, ‘I hate my body,’ or, ‘I lost so much weight.’ I don’t want to get to 50 years old and think, ‘I could have gone to the beach that day, but I decided not to because I thought I was going to be too fat in a bikini.’ Or, ‘I didn’t want to go on that date because I was worried that that boy would think I was ugly.’ Just start believing in yourself and eventually you’ll start to believe these positive things.”

What have you learned about yourself through coming through your eating disorder?

Oh my God. How resilient I am and how powerful your body is. I’ve abused my body in so many different ways and you’re just like, ‘Wow, my body has still stuck by me through all of that!’ That’s a really incredible thing.

You are now putting your own unique empowering stance into your beauty brand, Squish, why did you want to do that?
I always knew that if ever I was going to set up a business, I was always going to bring that with me because I truly believe that people want to see women of all shapes, sizes, and colours who they can relate to but who they can also aspire to. It’s great now that you’ve got these agencies who’ve got girls of every different shape, size, and colour because it allows girls to dream but allows them to feel that they can relate. I also don’t think things like acne, cellulite and stretch marks are necessarily bad things. I think we’ve always thought we have to Photoshop them out and women have to be this super smooth, super perfect human beings, but actually, showing a bit of cellulite isn’t going to deter someone from buying a product.

You now powerfully pose in underwear and show off your body, what steps have you had to take mentally in order to be able to do that?

Well this is the thing, for me personally, it’s really liberating because I cannot tell you how much my body used to disgust me. From the age of like 12-year-old, I would look in the mirror and I would detest myself so much. I couldn’t look at, if I turned around in the mirror, I would literally feel sick because I cellulite at the age of 12 or 13. None of my friends had it. I would just feel so insecure. So, actually putting pics of my body on, I find really empowering. But then you’ve got people who, of course, think that as a woman you can be in one category or the other or you can be an author, but you can’t possibly get in your bra and underwear because the two are very conflicting. I think what we should be teaching girls is actually, you can be both, that doesn’t limit your abilities and it shouldn’t stop you from being an amazing woman.

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In the modelling industry, is there anything someone would say that still surprises you?

Oh my God, so many things. I’m still told by girls that they’re told to lose weight all the time when there is literally nothing of them. It’s just ridiculous and it almost feels like now we’re going into a time where, if you have a voice and you’re more of an influencer model, you’re fine. You’re kind of let off the hook. But there are other girls who do modelling as their profession full time and they’re still told that they’re not thin enough and that they’ve got to be a certain size for runway. It’s really bizarre.

I do think things are changing in terms of the way men are on set. There’ve been many times in my life where I’ve been in really uncomfortable positions and I don’t think those would happen nowadays. In fact, actually, last year I was on set, someone tried some inappropriate things and I went back, told my agent and it was stopped immediately. But had I said that two, three years ago, I doubt anything would have happened. So, things are really changing in that regard, which I’m happy about.

I remember going on a casting once and this guy had made me feel really, really uncomfortable previously. And I said to my agent, ‘I actually don’t want to go on this casting because this guy was really weird with me.’ He was like tucking my hair behind my ear, touching my face, telling me all this really weird sexual inappropriate stuff. So, I said to my agent, ‘I actually don’t want to go on this casting again with him.’ And they said, ‘Well, he could make your career. So, I think you should go.’

This casting was at his apartment. So, you’re putting yourself in these situations that are really, really dangerous, I think. I don’t think that would happen now or I’d like to think not. But I still think way more needs to be done in terms of safety.

What advice would you want to give to a girl or guy who is out there dealing with the image problems you have suffered from?

Your image isn’t everything. I know that we live in a very image driven society especially now with Instagram. And I do understand that there is a lot, a ton of pressure to look a certain way, but we’re also in a part of time where unlike when me and you were young, we can actually choose who we want to follow and we can choose the images we want to see. There’s going to be images that make you feel bad, no matter where you look. But if someone makes you feel bad on social media, unfollow them because we spend so much time on our phones, just get rid of the people that make you feel bad. Start following people who don’t look like you but can lift you up and make you feel empowered.

Shop Charli’s beauty brand, Squish, here



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